On Fixing Roofs, Breaking Bread, and Women’s Ordination

By now, most of us have probably come across the Vatican theologian’s most recent justification for barring women from the priesthood. The piece strikes me as so convoluted that were it not published directly on the Catholic News Service website, I would have suspected I was reading a parody. Some gems include:

“The son of God became flesh, but became flesh not as sexless humanity but as a male,” Father Giertych said; and since a priest is supposed to serve as an image of Christ, his maleness is essential to that role.

Hm, this seems a little fishy to me. If God’s purpose was to become truly human, why would God appear as a sexless entity? Back in Jesus’ time as now, one’s sex and gender are central facets of our identities, of how we see ourselves, and in how the world sees us (including the roles allowed to us by the Catholic Church.) How could God  become truly human if God did not take on this aspect that remains so central to our humanity, for better or for worse?

And am I the only one in the world who has noticed how many stereotypically female traits Jesus displays? Was his “maleness” central to his welcoming of children upon his lap? (Tell that to any mother, grandmother, nanny, teacher, or another of the millions of women who take primary responsibility for childcare.) Was his “maleness” central to his refusal to engage in violence? (Tell that to the women who have founded and taken part in dozens of organizations dedicated to ending violence of all kinds, from domestic abuse to war.) Or perhaps his maleness was central to the way he prepared and served his apostles their final meal. (Tell that to your mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, and wives who prepare elaborate feasts for Thanksgiving and Christmas, or who have the much less glamorous gig of putting food on the table for their families, day in and day out.)

If we’re dealing in cultural stereotypes, it seems women are much more predisposed to perform the “roles” we know and love Jesus for.

But we’ve all heard the old song about Jesus’ maleness, Jesus’ male apostles, etc. etc. when it comes to women’s ordination. Here’s what Father Giertych brings to the table that is new:

Father Giertych said priests love the church in a characteristically “male way” when they show concern “about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordat between the church and the state.”

Oh, of course! Women can’t be priests because women certainly don’t notice or care when a roof is leaking. It all makes sense to me now! (Both why women can’t be priests, and why my floor is perpetually wet!)

Luckily, lots of folks are pointing out just how ridiculous this excuse for the Church’s persistent sexism is. But two can play at this game of gender stereotypes. Let’s try some of these:

  • Since women traditionally prepare and serve meals for their loved ones, and because the Eucharistic Sacrament is central to the celebration of Mass, only women can be priests.
  • Since a woman’s domain is the home and family, and because the Church is the home of Christ’s family in a community, only women can be priests.
  • Since women are traditionally better communicators, and because a priest’s job is to communicate the Gospel message and Church teaching to the community, only women can be priests.
  • Since men apparently can’t love Jesus as fully as women without venturing into homoerotic territory, and since devotion to Jesus AND devotion to heterosexuality are central to the priesthood, only women can be priests. (See the last paragraph in Father Giertych’s interview, which attempts to make up for all the misogyny in his statement by back-pedaling into the territory of homophobia and insisting that women are better “spouses” of Christ because of his maleness and their femaleness.)

The reasons listed above are, of course, silly, insulting to women and men alike. They’re petty, and I don’t like myself very much for resorting to them, for reducing women and men, each of whom is unique and made in God’s image, to neat, universal explanations. I don’t like the Vatican very much when it resorts to them, either.

I don’t agree with any of the stereotypes laid out in this blog post, perfectly aware that they rely upon me putting on giant blinders to every example that contradicts my worldview. But in a world where both women and men are continuously proving that they are so much more than their sex, those blinders will have to remain crucial to the Vatican maintaining its position. If we get really lucky, perhaps the next pope will forget his blinders in the drawer.

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About Lacey Louwagie
I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). I blog about my creative and writing life at http://llword.wordpress.com.

5 Responses to On Fixing Roofs, Breaking Bread, and Women’s Ordination

  1. Pingback: On Fixing Roofs, Breaking Bread, and Women’s Ordination « LL Word

  2. boe8 says:

    Although the idea has intrigued me, I’ve always felt a little strange about the thought of women priests, falling back on the old stereotypes that are always used to justify an all-male priesthood – but you have really turned that argument on its head. Thank you so much for this!

    • Since I’ve attended services in other faith traditions with female clergy (Lutheran, UU, Methodist), it doesn’t really feel that strange to me. I believe that if women’s ordination does happen, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Old Guard, but ultimately people will get used to is

      It’s kind of like when they started having girls as altar servers. It seemed foreign at the time, but now the concept of only boys doing it seems foreign to me.

    • Thank you for reading, and for your open heart! I think it’s OK for people to be uncomfortable with change; but our own discomfort as we adjust should never be grounds for discriminating against someone else — that’s internal work that we need to do.

  3. Pingback: Illiterate or Illogical? « Young Adult Catholics

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